Summary: Instruction on the handling of suffering falls short because it leaves us with the resounding question of why, and it is in this sermon we see four reasons that Paul gave on why we suffer.
CBS News anchor Dan Rather admits he was always fascinated by the sport of boxing, even though he was never good at it. “In boxing you’re on your own; there’s no place to hide,” he says. “At the end of the match only one boxer has his hand up. That’s it. He has no one to credit or to blame except himself.”
Rather, who boxed in high school, says his coach’s greatest goal was to teach his boxers that they absolutely, positively, without question, had to be “get up” fighters. “If you’re in a ring just once in your life, and you get knocked down but you get back up again, it’s an never-to-be-forgotten experience. Your sense of achievement is distinct and unique. And sometimes the only thing making you get up is someone in your corner yelling.”
We have all had our fights and battles with discouragement, depression, stress, anxiety, and just all around suffering. There is nothing out of the ordinary about these things; it’s just a fact of life. We all have times when we could use a little encouragement to help us get back up, and get back into the fight. For the most of us tonight, this is a time when we really need some encouragement.
When I think about the New Testament, I am often amazed at how many approach it. It is almost as if most people sell it short, believing that it is only a collection of writings that teach the doctrine of how to get to heaven. The truth is, it is so much more than that. It is a manual, an instruction book on how to handle life, and cope with difficult times.
It should serve as a help to realize that the New Testament offers instruction on how to make it in difficult times, but even at that, we too often receive instruction, but never receive an answer to the question of “Why?” Sometimes it seems as if there is just no good reason as to why we must suffer some things, or endure such trying situations.
It is common when we suffer through rough times to look to the life of Job. Surely if anyone saw affliction and experienced heartache, then Job was the one. But when you think about him you come to the place where even Job, as godly as he was, asked the question, “Why?” “God, why do I suffer? Why am I hurting? What is the purpose of this? God, why are you letting me go through these things?”
God didn’t punish Job for questioning Him. But, when you look at that story, God didn’t exactly give Job an answer that satisfied his question. The answer was simply, “Job, I allow you to suffer because I’m God, and I can.” And it is in times like this, with answers like that, it is really no consolation to have instruction like “think right, do right, and feel right.” It is good instruction, but there is no solace in it because we never seem to understand the “why” of the matter.
How can you think right if you don’t understand? If you can’t think right, then how can you do right? If you can’t do right, then how can you feel right? The instruction is good instruction. I will not deny that part of it, but it does not give us any answer as to why we suffer heartaches, disappointments, stress, affliction, and just generally tough life-situations.
I thank God that we don’t need to settle our minds upon the answer given to Job. Throughout history, God’s revelation to man has been progressive, all the way to the completion of Scripture. That is, the longer that God has had dealings with man, the more about Himself that he has revealed to man. And by His grace and love for us, in about 55A.D., through the pen of the Apostle Paul, He finally gave to all of humanity the answer to the question, “Why do the people of God suffer?”
In our text, were you to look at it in the original language, you would notice two words that are used repetitively. It is not as obvious in our King James Version because the words were translated into different words, but one word is used 10 times, and the other is used 4 times.
The word used 10 times is translated several times as comfort. The other word is translated as trouble, tribulation, and affliction.
Paul’s theme at hand is that of encouragement through suffering. Literally, the word comfort means to exhort, to strengthen, and to encourage. Encouragement is not just a kind word of consolation, but the word means to place courage into another person.
The word translated as affliction literally means pressure, stress, turmoil, despair, and discouragement. Discouragement means to take courage out of someone. Affliction is that thing that gnaws at your mind, and turns your stomach in knots. It attacks the heart, and tortures the emotions.